Tom Keegan: Legalized gambling will make sports more exciting, more dangerous

Big Jay stretches himself across the front row of Jayhawk fans during a timeout in the first half of a Nov. 24, 2006, game against the Cardinals at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Big Jay stretches himself across the front row of Jayhawk fans during a timeout in the first half of a Nov. 24, 2006, game against the Cardinals at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Before getting too euphoric over the Supreme Court’s decision to put the fate of legalized sports gambling in the hands of the states, consider the reason that an inordinate number of gamblers still wear polyester disco shirts that went into and out of style in the early 1970s.

It’s not that they still think they look cool. It’s just that the money that otherwise would go toward retail items instead gets flushed on sure things blowing up in the final moments of games.

Even if you hit as often as you miss, you’re way behind. Remember, to win 50 percent of the time is to surrender 10 percent of your money to the house since you wager $110 to make $100 on an even-money proposition.

Between handstands, you’re popping because you’re so jacked up that you some day soon might be able to trust with your hard-earned money the jump shot of an 18-year-old who just got dumped by his girlfriend and is too scared to tell his coach that he injured his wrist punching the wall after he read the Dear John text to heed the legendary tale of Louie the Loser.

His pockets empty, Louie the Loser cried on his best friend's shoulder.

“I’m killing it at work,” he started. “My quarterly bonuses are twice the size they were just two years ago. Problem is, I blew my first one betting the NFL every Sunday. Then my next bonus was eaten alive by lousy refereeing in the NBA playoffs.”

Then what?

“Blew my next one on baseball,” Louie the Loser lamented. “Freaking manager couldn’t handle a bullpen worse if he tried. Absolutely clueless! Fire him already. What are they waiting for?”

So Louie’s friend offered advice: “Why don’t you try betting on hockey games?”

Louie was shocked: “Hockey? I don’t know anything about hockey!”

Louie the Loser knows football, basketball and baseball so well he’s still wearing that same lime-green, polyester disco shirt, which hasn’t exactly filled up his dance card — not that he has the money to pick up the tab anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the excitement generated by the Supreme Court opening the floodgates. Working in Southern California in the ‘80s, I made a few trips to Las Vegas. In order to take a three-hour break from the blackjack tables, I would wager on an NFL game and watch it in my hotel room. If watching an NFL game is a 4 on a scale of 1 to 10 without a wager, having an investment on it takes the adrenaline of the viewing experience to 9.9.

Wagering makes sports more engaging to a wider audience. The Kentucky Derby without gambling never would have lasted, yet it's become so much more than just a horse race. Great fashion (accept for those who blow their shirt money) and so many high-energy theme parties have sprouted from it.

If legalized gambling becomes easy to access, TV ratings will spike and viewers will watch for longer, because even if one team has the game won, it’s how your team is doing against the spread that keeps you watching. Sponsors understand this means you'll watch the advertisements, too. This will save the sweet TV deals for the leagues, pro and college. It’ll even spice them.

And if the leagues can get cut in on a slice of the action, they’ll be so awash in cash, they won’t need to hold up cities to build new stadiums. They’ll pay for the stadiums themselves.

Bad people will find a way to do bad things to good things, so the risk of players being pressured to throw games could increase. Umpires and referees will take more flak than ever. Hecklers will grow meaner. Winning wagerers will want to share the wealth with the players who made them winners. Compliance departments will have tougher jobs.

It will be so fascinating to watch where this all heads.

Former Utah Jazz coach and executive Frank Layden once said that if parimutuel windows ever were allowed at NBA games every franchise would have to tear down its arena and build one three times its size because attendance would grow exponentially. If it ever comes to that, parimutuel windows at games, here's a tip for how to do better than the average schmo: Do your research and not only memorize the face of every wife of an athlete, but every friend you can find as well. Follow them to the window and duplicate their bets. They know the secrets. They know about every hidden injury, every personal grudge against an opponent that will create extra motivation, and they know when a team has quit on its coach way before anybody else does.

It's the refs and umpires for whom I have the most sympathy.

In nearly 40 years of covering sports, I only twice covered games played within 100 yards of a betting window. Kansas defeated Ball State and Florida at the Orleans on consecutive nights. Late in the Ball State game, Kansas was up by 19 points and a donor who frequently travels with the team was on his feet letting the ref have it. I thought: Why does he care? The game was in the bag. Then it hit me. Kansas wasn't quite covering the spread. The game was only over for those who didn't wager on it.

Ever notice how handicaps in golf make so many matches come down to the 18th hole? Well, the same goes for betting lines in football and basketball. The games will become more exciting. And more dangerous. And the habitual losers will be easy to spot. They're the ones wearing the polyester disco shirts.